At least half of one of those stars is due to loyalty to the fine men and woman (pretty sure there’s just one) of the Paradise Police Department.
Brandman knows Stone. He knows Suitcase (though you’d have a hard time proving it based on the evidence here) and Molly. He has a decent handle on the city, and the supporting characters.
What he doesn’t know is how to write a mystery. Or a police procedural. Possibly not a novel — maybe he should stick to scripts.
There are two cases that Jesse’s working on in this book — one he stumbles onto when helping a friend, he develops a hunch about conditions in a local retirement home. He talks to two citizens about it — both of whom serve mostly as exposition dumps and confirm his hunch. Jesse proceeds to harass and bully his way through bringing the retirement home in line. There’s no challenge for him here, there’s no struggle, there’s no effort, really. It does allow Brandman a chance to talk about some real problems, cite some statistics about a social ill and move on.
There’s a murder mystery also — he detects a little here. Mostly he susses out one clue, and the rest is delivered to him by Gino Fish and Vinnie Morris. Always nice for a small town cop to have a mobster and a shooter to call on for answers.
If this took me any time at all to read, I’d probably be more upset. The Stone novels for years were the best things that Parker produced. Towards the end, there was a resurgence in the quality of the Spenser novels which seemed to result in lesser Stone novels. But we’d still occasionally get one worth reading. Brandman has consistently fallen far short of even Parker’s worst. It’s really sad to see such a good franchise ruined like this.